Physical Disabilities Digital Accessibility Guide For Web/App Designers

Jul 31, 2023

Studies estimate that we spend over six hours a day on screens. That’s more than a quarter of our day. With technology being such a massive part of our lives, it’s hard to believe that it’s still inaccessible to some people.

Physical disabilities are the most commonly experienced type of disability. This is an umbrella term that describes any disability that limits physical functioning, mobility, stamina, or dexterity. Over 12% of US adults have a mobility-based disability. Yet web designers often neglect this area when attempting to create accessible content.

We’ve created this list to tackle this. These accessibility suggestions aim to improve user experience for people with physical disabilities. This list is part of a series. Each list is organized according to the type of disability their likely to benefit.

You can find all lists here.

Ample Spacing and Sizing

Around 23% of people with disabilities have dexterity problems. This affects muscle control and motor skills which can make using a mouse difficult. Despite this, we come across overly small buttons and links constantly. These can make basic web navigation nearly impossible.

Your links must be a decent size. Aim for at least two longer words or three shorter words per link. Accessible links should be roughly an inch long.

Buttons on your digital platform also need to be big enough. Think about movement when considering button size. Can you still hover over the button after moving your mouse around slightly? If so, then your buttons are probably an okay size.

Spacing is important. Some people with mobility issues are prone to shaking or sudden movement. Accidentally pressing buttons can cause massive problems. Ample spacing helps to prevent this and makes your site easier to use.

Disable Motion-Activated Commands

UX designers are always looking for quicker ways to activate commands. That’s where motion-activated commands come in. You can skip songs and make calls without even unlocking your phone. Convenient, right? Well, they can be. But they can also be an accessibility nightmare if you can’t turn them off.

For example, you can control AirPods just by tapping them. Tap to pause, play, skip, and replay any track. However, this feature could constantly interrupt audio for someone who experiences spasms or ticks. The AirPods would become unusable if there was no way to deactivate this command.

Over 12 million people worldwide have a neuromuscular disorder. Motion-activated commands can seriously impact the usability of tech for these people. You must be able to deactivate them and have a simple in-phone alternative instead.

Autocomplete Features

Mobility problems can make typing difficult. Tasks like filling in forms can be a slow process, especially if users are typing with tools like mouth wands, assistive keyboards, or switch devices. Autocomplete is a time-saving feature that benefits everyone. However, it can make a massive difference to people with mobility issues.

Autocomplete saves all previously entered information. This is automatically filled in when it’s next needed. One click lets you complete an entire form in seconds. Autocomplete can also be used for log-in pages. Being able to save your username and password reduces typing and navigation fatigue. You can further the accessibility of your login page by providing a ‘Remember Me’ option. This reduces the number of times someone has to log in.

Some people will store their info and passwords in a document. They then copy and paste these whenever they’re needed. So your system must accept copy-and-pasted text on all form and sign-in fields as well.

No Time Limits

Time limits are annoying for everyone. However, they can make basic tasks very challenging for individuals with disabilities. For example, filling out forms. People with disabilities may take more time to complete this task anyway. Adding a time limit adds unnecessary stress and can make the task undoable. This is worsened by the fact that most time limits are pointless.

If the time limit is essential for security purposes, then you need to notify the user of the time limit. You must also tell them when it’s going to run out. Not everyone can complete everything within the set time limit. So you must give people an option to extend it. WCAG guidelines state the user must have at least 20 seconds to choose to extend the time limit.

Keyboard Accessible

Some people with physical disabilities cannot use a mouse. Many of them use the keyboard tabbing feature to access what they need instead. Therefore, all elements on your site must be accessible from only a keyboard.

The keyboard navigator should focus on elements in an order that makes sense. This must match up with the page’s visuals. Generally, this means going from left to right and top to bottom. You need to pair this with a good, simple web layout. Place and label everything well. This minimizes confusion when tabbing.

Keyboard navigation can be a lengthy process. Reduce this by using headings. Pressing h/shift+h lets users focus solely on heading elements. Accurate headings let keyboard navigators quickly scan through large amounts of info to find what they need.

Additionally, you must make sure that no components rely on cording keys. This is when you need to hold down multiple keys at the same time to complete a function. Many people with physical disabilities are simply unable to do this.

Biometric Login

Manual logins rely on memory and fine motor skills. This makes them inaccessible to many. Biometrics provides a way to log in using only your presence. You can do this via face ID, fingerprint authentication, or voice identification - just to name a few.

Face ID can be particularly useful for individuals with paralysis or dexterity problems. Biometrics compatibility is not just a good accessibility move, it’s also a great way to increase account security. Say bye-bye to constantly forgetting passwords and account hacking.

Multi-Orientation Use

Paralysis of some kind will affect 1 in 50 Americans in their lifetime. More than 3 million people in the USA have a disability in their hands or forearms. Many of these people will be unable or find it challenging to rotate their devices. Often devices are fixed to wheelchairs, which also prevents reorientation.

Apps that only work in one orientation are inaccessible. Many people can only use their devices in one orientation, and it’s not always the app’s default. Single-orientation apps can also negatively affect low-vision users who use landscape to increase content size. Apps must be designed to function seamlessly in both portrait and landscape.

No Drag and Drop

Drag and drop features can cause endless accessibility problems. They rely on steady mouse control and hand strength which can be unusable for people with fine motor skills issues. It’s also not compatible with assistive technology like voice navigation.

Drag and drop should never be the only option available. Always have a simple alternative available. You should be able to complete this with only a keyboard or very limited mouse use.